Features Reader Roundtable

Reader Roundtable Vol. 60

Had your turkey? Watched football? Then it’s time to get back to gaming! Family time is over, and you only have a month before the relatives are back to bother you. All the more reason to fire up that Genesis!


Star Odyssey By Ken Horowitz

I got the opportunity to preview Super Fighter Team’s upcoming Star Odyssey this month, and I’ve also been lucky enough to play it! That’s right, I’m playing it before all of you (thumbs nose). Suffice it to say, I’m very excited about another quality release for my Genesis!

Star Odyssey is really old school, and while the initial difficulty curve is kind of steep, it never becomes too much, and things hit a great stride pretty early on. I’m on the second planet so far, and the more I play, the more I think of how well received this game would have been had Sage’s Creation actually released it. There are elements that really remind me of Phantasy Star II (planetary exploration, mixture of sci fi and fantasy), Sword of Vermilion (some sound effects and instrumentation), and even Taito’s Saint Sword (graphical style). The amalgam of early Genesis styles is a real nostalgia trip!

I’ll b giving Star Odyssey the full review treatment next month, and while I don’t want to spoil anything, let me just say that what I’ve played so far, I’ve enjoyed. If things continue this good, we’ll have another great adventure on Sega’s little black box!

Sonic The Hedgehog 3 By Sebastian Sponsel

The announcement came totally out of left field. We were in the subway one late afternoon, on the way back to my place. I was a bit tired, and my girlfriend had been in kind of a ponderous mood. Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly said “I need to get better!”

I blinked. We rode the train for a few minutes in silence, and I couldn’t figure out what she meant.

“At what?” I finally asked, puzzled.

“At video games.” she answered. “My performance, that was kind of embarrassing.”

Now I started to understand. Earlier, we had tried out Sonic Colors on the Wii. She had liked it but barely managed to get through the first level. While she isn’t unaccustomed to gaming as such, my girl had hardly played any video games before. She usually played point & click adventures or strategy games on the PC and had hardly used a controller before. After she had handed the controls to me, I more or less breezed through the first levels on my first try. Apparently, this had frustrated her in some way.

“You have any such games I could try?” she asked. “I need to get better at this!”

It was a strange situation. I tried to recreate the feelings and memories I had when I first played a platformer. I couldn’t; that was more than twenty years ago! Twenty years of gaming had sharpened my skills to such a degree that I could intuitively understand video game controls, at least with way more ease than a newbie. I really had never thought about this that way before.

I pondered this. My girl and I had played some World of Illusion together before, but that wasn’t what she had in mind. She needed something that was easy to learn, with a certain degree of action as well, but a platformer nevertheless, not a shooter or an action/adventure. I went through my library of games in my mind. Most games I had for the PS3 didn’t quite fit the bill, and my PS2 was currently shelved. And she had come to this conclusion after playing a Sonic title…

“Well”, I answered, “we could try the old Sonic games.”

So back at my apartment, we ended up playing the Sonic games. Well, mostly she did, anyway. I gave her some pointers, but I didn’t want to take the controller out of her hand either. To help her along, we popped in Sonic 3 at one point, with her playing the role of Sonic, while I took over Tails, clearing out obstacles and occasionally giving her a little lift whenever she got stuck. Even though I dropped from the screen from time to time, given the skill difference between the two of us this arrangement actually worked pretty well.

Basically that was about the only Genesis game I myself played this month (I had dedicated most time to Arkham Asylum on the PS 3 and am currently lost in New Vegas on the PC). My girlfriend though? Well, she’s working on going through Sonic 2 right now. So far, after a handful of evenings, she’s made it to Hill Top Zone. As a newcomer to the genre, I wonder how long finishing the game will take her…

NBA Jam By Christian Matozzo

I have to admit, NBA Jam is one of my favorite games for the Genesis. It’s just a blast by yourself or with a friend, and with the recent reboot of the franchise on modern consoles, the original Genesis port just has to get a mention.

To put it plain and simple, NBA Jam is just no-frills, all chills basketball. High flying dunks, high-intensity games, and from-the-other-side-of-the-court shots all make a simple two-on-two arcade-style basketball game that uses a mere three-button layout. Games are only twelve minutes long and yet don’t get old. There’s just something about cringing on that fourth quarter shot when you’re three points down and you throw up that Hail Mary from the other end of the court that I could watch over and over again. Or the dunk where the player jumps twice the height of the net. Or even the part where the backboard simply shatters and you want to scream and holler in excitement at the TV. Not to mention that familiar announcer, whose phrase “BOOMSHAKALAKA” will be remembered in gamers’ hearts for years to come. The game simply has a character that cannot be matched in other sports games.

My fondest memories of the game are with my brother and I. We’ve had some good times playing NBA Jam, me usually being the Bulls and him the Orlando Magic. The players may not actually play basketball anymore, but there’s also something about being able to play with the ’90s basketball legends in such a fun and non-complex basketball game that makes it so satisfying, regardless of if there’s all of about two character models in the entire game.

So if you’re looking for a game you want to play with your friends and simply have a good time with, check out NBA Jam. The controls are easy, the games quick, and the experience quite the memorable experience.

Last Battle By Nick McLean

I am a huge Hokuto no Ken fan. Localized for western audiences as Fist of the North Star, the hyper-violent Japanese franchise is as widely criticized as it is acclaimed. Unfortunately, due to the extreme graphic nature of the movie and anime our exposure in the west would always be somewhat limited. However, the myriad of video games we were exposed to was surprising compared to many other series.

We got a lot of localizations, most of which removed the Hokuto no Ken license. Like Sega’s original Hokuto no Ken, which was released as Black Belt on the Master System outside of Japan. Fans were treated to a NES release with the license, however once again, for Sega’s second outing we got another renaming, and Last Battle was born. Last Battle was one of the earliest titles available for the Genesis, and I had always been keen to play it. Of course, I love the Genesis, and I love Fist of the North Star. What could go wrong?

Finally, after so many years, I managed to get a copy for a couple dollars, cart only. I booted the game up and was surprised to see a Mad Max-style logo that read Last Battle. But hey, at least they could see where the inspiration for the series came from. Then… BAM. You are Kenshiro. I was so pleased in that moment as I walked forward to the first enemies. Quickly, I dealt the first opponent a punch to the head… and he flew off the screen ridiculously. No head explosion. No immediate death. Enemies fly away. I tried the game a few more times, noting that it was extremely difficult with no continues, and that nothing on Earth can make up for enemies flying off the screen like that.

I was disappointed, but that’s life, nes pas? What do you expect, at least it got here in some form, which is more than can be said for a lot of games. But can you imagine how awesome it would have been if one of the first Genesis games in 1989 had heads exploding left and right?

I guess there’s only one thing to say about that: You’re already dead.

Sunset Riders By The Coop

Back when Konami were first getting its toes wet in the Genesis pond, everyone was excited about the possibilities. What arcade games would Konami port over? What franchises would get a Genesis entry? What new games would see the light of day? It didn’t take long to get answers. Castlevania? That came in fine fashion after a bit. Turtles? Well, a half-hearted “new” game of sorts. Contra? Oh hell yes. Rocket Knight Adventures? Indeed. And while we never saw a port of games like Aliens, Metamorphic Force or Xexex, Genesis owners did get Sunset Riders… sort of.

I can remember finding this game (cart only of course) at an Electronics Boutique, and thinking, This looks kind of interesting. A Konami game set in the Wild West. I bought it, took it home, and played it. The graphics were all right, the music was pretty good, and the game played fine. Seemed kind of short though. Only four levels (two stages each) meant it had the potential to be over with pretty quickly. But the game got damn hard at times, so that raised its longevity (as well as the “swear words per level” count on my part). It wasn’t a bad game at all, but some years later, I got the SNES version. Wow. Just… wow. So much was cut out of the Genesis version. Sure, it kept the Indians and “working” girls’ clothing, but it lost two playable characters and half the stages. I can remember being floored when I found out so much had been cut out of the game. I also remember pretty much abandoning the Genesis version and rarely playing it after that. Why bother? It was only half a game. Even The Hyperstone Heist, as questionable as it’s “new game” status was, still came off noticeably better.

Now here I am years later, the semi-proud owner of a complete copy of Sunset Riders in my Genesis collection (found it cheap at a flea market, and figured what the hell), and sitting here thinking how it’s a shame Konami didn’t put more faith into the Genesis at that time. The possibility was there for a very good port of the arcade game, but the cart size just wasn’t right. The end result is that Sunset Riders simply feels like an utterly lazy and half-assed port. No wonder some Genesis owners felt Konami were giving them the stink eye early on, as they watched the company continue to fully back the SNES with a far more complete version of Sunset Riders. I know the going theory is that Konami were just testing the Genesis waters with some of its early releases for the system (small cart sizes, “simple” game ports, etc.). But still, cutting out half a game? That’s just pathetic. I guess we should be glad it got out of that system fairly quickly. I shudder to think what would have happened to some of the other Konami classics the Genesis got later on if it hadn’t.

Sonic Spinball By Greg Jurkiewcz

I was going to write about Contra Hard Corps this month because I’ve been playing it a lot and doing surprisingly well, but to be honest I think everyone already knows that game is awesome. Plus, I just had an odd experience on a chill Saturday afternoon. I decided to sit down with Sonic Spinball. I always hated that game but really liked the music in it. The tunes just kept luring me back, even though I considered the game unbeatable, I’d always play the first level just to listen to the music, though soon I’d get frustrated and turn it off.

This time was different. I hyped myself up and decided that no matter what I’m beating that game! Glad I did. The music only got better with further levels and I really grew to appreciate the level artwork and the silly and often hilarious scrolling text messages that go by the top of the screen as you play. In fact, with the exception of Sonic’s sprite, I really grew to like all the art. It’s quirky and characteristically ’90s. I really couldn’t hate this game anymore. The bonus levels were quite creative as well, and the MUSIC! … did I mention that the music is awesome? Yeah…

So six hours later I finally beat it! It took a lot of save states, and I must say without them there is no way I would’ve done it. So if anyone ever beat this thing on cart I’d be beyond impressed. Needless to say, I now like Sonic Spinball, and I don’t care what anyone says!

Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom By Frank Ramirez

There’s really no method to the order I’ve been playing the Phantasy Star games in. I love Phantasy Star IV and have played it to death by now. The next logical step was to go right to Phantasy Star II, considered the best game in the series, right? Well, I’ve always been one to root for the underdog, so I decided to go for Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom on Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection.

The graphics are quite nice, I have to say. Everything looks painted, versus the bright anime inspired style of Phantasy Star’s II and IV. The character portraits are also nice, again, with a painted look. “Dreamlike” is the only word I can think of for the music. It’s surreal. I know a lot of people give it flack for not being like the other games, but I like how it’s so intentionally NOT like the other games. It really makes it feel that much more detached from the series, fooling us into believing it truly DOESN’T have anything to do with the other games.

One thing I WILL say though: the battles. Can be. So damn annoying. The battle music isn’t so hot. I HATE the “poison”  status. Not being able to see your characters, I can live with. I’m a long time Dragon Quest fan after all. I’m used to that. The monster animations are a bit pathetic. At first I wasn’t too keen on the town designs; they’re all so uniform, but maybe that’s intentional too. The people living in this world are closed off from any outside influences (for the most part). Maybe it’s all they really know. Who knows? Maybe I’m reading too much into the black sheep of the Phantasy Star series, but it’s really fun to speculate.

I honestly don’t believe this game is as bad as everyone says it is. I’m about four hours in and still willing to give it a fair chance.

Star Wars Chess By Frank Villone

Peace has been struck between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Now “the old adversaries settle their differences through the ancient, eternal game of CHESS.” Okay, so no one picks up Star Wars Chess for its plot, which fails to explain why the characters use themselves as pieces, and comically fight to the death each time there is a capture. However this is worth picking up if you like to play chess, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan too. As this came out in ’93, all theme material is from the classic film trilogy of the ’70s and ’80s!

Starting in Battle mode, the hand-drawn characters stand on a tilted 3D chess board, floating in space. They are well-drawn, detailed, and smoothly-animated (during the intro and fight scenes, though not on the board itself). If you’d like to scrap most of the Star Wars theme, just hit B to switch to a traditional chess set. Keep the Capture Movies on if you want a few laughs, or not if you want to just play chess, with no distractions. There are all the options you could ask for: endless Undo and Replay, a hint for your next move (by hitting A), and you can save or load a game at any point (with four save slots). The controls do have a slight lag, but once you get used to them, they’re fine. Chess enthusiasts must search for this game in the retro stores! Use the force!

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